Published in The Telegraph, Saturday, February 5, 2011

It needs an artist of the stature of the Baroda-based artist, Jeram Patel, to reinvigorate abstract art, which is a spent force today. His exhibition, Recent Works of Jeram Patel (till February 26), at the Harrington Street Arts Centre, bears testimony to the potency of the output of this 1930-born artist, one of the pioneers of Indian contemporary art, responsible for setting it on its present course. What is most striking about Patel’s art is the tremendous energy it generates, although in the present case, he has used only black and white on the canvases, and wood and stainless steel are the material for the “boxes”. The latter enclose seemingly shifting shapes, that are fluid and amorphous like mercury. Patel’s work is quite different from that of the other great Indian abstract - perhaps the term “non-figurative” would be more appropriate - painter, namely, Vasudeo S. Gaitonde, who was greatly influenced by Zen philosophy and calligraphy, and whose work is marked by a meditative pensiveness, not unexpected in an artist who enjoyed an unhurried painting process.

Patel perhaps alludes to no real form as such, but there can be no doubt that his works are not in the realm of pure ideas either. Like the works of his contemporary, Jagdish Swaminathan, they are replete with a strong suggestive power that some time take physical form. According to Michel Seuphor, the Belgian artist who had written on Mondrian’s art and was an interpreter of the abstract movement: “I call abstract art any art that contains no reference to, no evocation of reality, whether or not this reality was the artist’s point of departure.”

Patel’s work does evoke mental states, and in that it is close to music. In his paintings, he exploits the explosive potential of juxtaposing black and white, which are, so to speak, at opposite ends of the chromatic pole. The canvases were painted as recently as last year, and while in some, a force of tremendous magnitude seems to have been kept in leash, in another lot, the damage is already done. The pall of black is in shreds, its contours in tatters, as if the field of paint had suddenly developed innumerable feet like a centipede, along with jagged edges. It could also be a paper cut-out done by a child whose imagination has gone astray.

Patel’s “boxes” have a more soothing effect with the wedges and grooves and geometric shapes hollowed into their mirror-like surfaces. The sides of these are clearly demarcated with lines like concentric tree rings, some with chips of coloured ceramic at their bottom. They are fixed forms, yet, at times, an illusion of movement is created - like shreds of clouds on the skin of a lake.

Published in The Telegraph, Saturday, February 5, 2011
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